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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

In the middle of America’s Civil War, when our country was tearing itself apart at the seams, when hate and bloodshed seemed to rule the day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down on Christmas Day 1863 and penned the following words.

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old, familiar carols play,                And mild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Along with the horrors of war, Longfellow, was also grieving the loss of his wife who had been burned to death in a fire. In March of the same year, his son had joined the army against his father’s wishes and in November was severely wounded in battle. It is no wonder that the following verses stand out in stark contrast to the first.

Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South And with the sound the carols drowned, of peace on earth good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent the hearthstones of a continent,            And made forlorn the households born of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head, “There is no peace on earth!” I said;    For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men!

As one reads these words against the backdrop of the time in which they were written, one can understand how Longfellow saw the words of the first verse as a mockery of everything that was happening in the world around him. But following a season of doubt and despondency, the last verse was born.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;        The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men!

Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, Longfellow’s heart returned to his trust in God, much like Job of old, when despair had nearly driven him to the brink, these words sprang forth, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will take His stand on the earth” (Job 19:25).

And so, my friends, even as we are surrounded by the ills and problems of our world in this Christmas season, may we not cecum to angst and despair, for we only see part of the story. The truth? Our Redeemer lives! And under His providential watch care, and in His perfect timing, what’s wrong shall fail and what’s right will prevail, through Him, Jesus Christ, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel…The God Who Is with Us!

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